“The Christian idea of God as Essential Love, as Love inside Himself, and therefore also outside Himself; the idea of God’s humility, of His self-abasement, manifested first in the creation of the world, i.e., in the placing of autonomous being alongside Himself, in the gift to this being of the freedom to develop according to its own laws, and therefore in the voluntary limitation of Himself–this idea for the first time made it possible to recognize creation as autonomous and therefore morally responsible to God.”
In striking contrast to the solitary, self-absorbed, impersonal picture of god we see in Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the distant and uninterested god imagined by Deists, or the utterly transcendent and semi-tyrannical dictator espoused by Islam, Christians have always maintained that God is Love. St. John so beautifully states this in his first epistle:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
From this passage we can discern at least three things about the One True God: (1) that He can be known, (2) that He is personal, and (3) that love is a fundamental aspect of His existence or being. To fully understand these three things, however, we must take a closer look at the two most important teachings of the Christian faith; namely, the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of the Incarnation.
It may strike you as odd that I maintain these doctrines are the most important teachings of the Christian faith; after all, many people today question whether or not it is necessary or even relevant for Christians to believe in the Trinity or the Incarnation. Some say these doctrines are impractical abstract concepts which have no bearing on everyday life; others suggest that these doctrines are rooted in pagan ideas and simply demonstrate the influence of Greek philosophy on the Early Church Fathers. As we shall see, both of these assertions are entirely false. The Trinity and the Incarnation are not only practical but, diametrically opposed to the Greek conception of the Divine Nature.
For, it is when we examine the Trinitarian explication of God’s existence and look closely at the Incarnation of our Lord that we come to understand what sets Christianity’s vision of the Divine Nature apart from all others. Only through these doctrines do we see that God is love, and, therefore, both personal and knowable.
The idea that God exists as three distinct persons who share one Divine Nature is absolutely necessary if we wish to maintain that God is both personal and loving. After all, personhood is, in part, understood through relationships—that is through an individual’s interaction with other rational beings. If God is the solitary enigmatic figure depicted in other forms of monotheism, we must therefore question whether or not he is personal at all. Consider that a perfect being must be complete in and of Himself and must depend upon nothing or no one for its existence. It stands to reason that if God is a perfect being (as Theists almost universally affirm) His personality must be grounded within Himself and should not be contingent upon the existence of other finite rational agencies. This, however, presents a problem for non-Christian forms of monotheism that depict God as a monad—that is, as one solitary self absorbed consciousness. In the absence of other distinct rational agencies it becomes difficult to understand how such a deity could be understood as personal or loving without sacrificing his perfection and transcendence; and this is reflected in their teachings about the Divine Nature. While they sometimes speak of God as one might speak about a person, their theology unavoidably leads to an unapproachable, disinterested, distant, and fundamentally impersonal Deity.
In contrast, the Doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God has eternally existed as a plurality of personalities– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and it is from this that we derive our understanding of God as a personal and loving being while, simultaneously, maintaining his perfection and transcendence.
It is in virtue of the perfect cooperation which exists between these three distinct personalities that we are able to discern that God is love: for the Father and the Son, and the Spirit all give of themselves to each other, and work in unity and harmony with each other. There is no struggle; no conflict. Everything the Father has he gives to his Son and, likewise, the Spirit shares in everything that is of the Father and of the Son. From this we learn that the Divine Nature is not narcissistic, self-obsessed and disinterested, but rather, a communion of perfect self-giving—self sacrificing–personalities. Through this principle of self-giving we come to understand the heart of true love.
We see this beautiful self-giving love spilling out into Creation in the most profound way through the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, the eternal Word of God by whom all things were created, humbled himself out of love and became a mere Man for our salvation. Thus, the beloved St. John says: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (I John 9-10) . . . and earlier in his epistle he says, “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (i John 3:16).
God’s self-giving love is made known to the world through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the eternal Word of God. In stark contrast with other monotheisms, Christianity proclaims the God of love—the personal being who, although transcendent and mysterious, sacrifices everything and reveals Himself to us His most treasured creation.